Everyone wants to sound more like a native and, if you want to fit in with native speakers, or advance your career, then doing so will definitely help you in the long run. You don’t even have to be a fluent speaker to start improving your pronunciation. But, it is important that you know the steps you’ll have to take to sound native, even when you’re learning from beginner level.
Here are five quick and easy tips on how to start working towards sounding more like a native speaker. You can start working with these tips from the very start of your language learning process.
1. Keep Practicing Your Pronunciation and Intonation Every Day
Pronunciation and intonation are some of the things people find hardest to master. This is because you’ve grown up listening to, and speaking, your own native language which sounds different than the one you’re currently learning.
So, even if it takes you a long time to train your ear and tongue to your new language, don’t worry, everyone is finding it the same! It might sound too simple, but the trick is – learn the rules and keep practicing! Listen to natives speak and, even if your don’t understand everything they say, try to pay attention to the slight differences in how they use their language. Say words and sentences over and over until you feel comfortable saying them without thinking.
And speaking of thinking – don’t get into the habit of translating things in your head back into your native language – try thinking in your target language. Speaking will then feel more natural and you’ll end up making fewer mistakes.
It’s important to make this into a habit, though. Pronunciation is one of those things that takes constant practice to see improvements. If you start paying attention to the way you speak your target language from the very start, it’ll be easier than trying to fix bad habits later on. So, when you learn a new word, or sentence – see the way natives use it and do your best to mimic. And keep practicing!
2. Get Familiar with Contractions
Native speakers are lazy. Why use two words when you can use one – that’s what they always think. That’s why contractions become an important part in native language use. Instead of sounding out every syllable, like your textbook might teach you, endings get omitted, and words get blended together. For English, using “do not” instead of “don’t” and “let us” instead of “let’s” will not only mark you out as a non-native speaker, but it will also make you sound like a robot. In French, "c’est" takes the place of ce est, and the famous "alouette" from the song is not pronounced like that in everyday language.
There is no easy rule to remember contractions, but luckily there aren’t so many that it is impossible to memorise them, or they tend to follow rules. In many modern teaching materials, the colloquial contractions are oftentimes taught next to the official language, making them easier to acquire. For English, you can also find a list and practice a few every day until you can remember them all.
3. Watch Some Films or Series in Your Target Language
No one said you can’t have fun while you’re learning! Films and TV shows are the best way to hear lots of different accents and styles of speaking in one session. Take your time, and if you don’t understand what someone is saying, wind back and play it again. Oh, and there is no shame in leaving the subtitles on, since the aim is to simply listen to the way natives use their language – don’t worry about not understanding everything that’s being said. Not surprisingly, this is how children first learn to use their native language – by listening to their parents. There’s no reason why you can’t steal a page from their book – it should be child’s play!
4. Meet Some Native Speakers in Real Life (or Online)
This may be harder for some people than others, depending on where you live and what language you’re learning. Try to find international Meetup groups in your area to find language exchange events, or use one of the many online language exchanges. If you’re just starting out with your target language, you can, at first, ask you exchange partner to simply read you something, or tell you a story, so you can get more accustomed to the way they use their language.
It can be intimidating at first to approach a native speaker, but don’t be afraid – they’re learning too! If you still feel uncomfortable, try signing up for a few lessons with a private teacher specialised in accent training. They usually provide quick results, and can give you tips on how to keep improving.
5. Stop Worrying and Just Have Fun!
You don’t need to have 100% pitch perfect pronunciation for people to think you’re a native speaker – especially if your target language is not their first! Good grammar, using the correct tone and register for a situation goes a long way, as well – as does your overall level of confidence. The average person is not a trained linguist and if you don’t tell them you’re a non-native speaker from the start they won’t be watching out for mistakes – so just relax and enjoy yourself.